Redbirds favored to defend EHT title
Benton, Carmi, Eldorado are seeded high; But Fairfield, Ham Co. and Gallatin Co. are threats

ELDORADO - The West Frankfort Redbirds are the top seed and are projected to defend their championship as the 40th Annual Eldorado Holiday Tournament begins December 27th.

Coach Kevin Toney's club, winners of six games against just two tough losses to Class AA southern Illinois power Murphysboro and Class A state-ranked Nashville on the road, stand 6-2 and deserving of the top choice here.

Led by 6-foot-3 senior Ryan Patton (10 p.p.g., 5.5 a.p.g.) and 6-foot-2 junior Matt Weeks (13.6 p.p.g., 2.1 a.p.g.) West Frankfort has all the tools to not only win this tradition rich event but to also top the 20-win mark before the season concludes.

Six-foot-seven senior Ryan Kirkpatrick (10.3 p.p.g., 6.4 r.p.g.) is the top threat on the inside for Coach Toney.

Josh Webb (6-foot-2 senior) and 6-foot-3 senior Martin Conaughty are also threats offensively for the Redbirds.

"We are concerned about Pope County and what we do to get ready for the tournament," said Coach Toney, who is leery of the Pirates and the rest of the field at the EHT. "We can't let our success affect our daily approach. I know it has been said before but with us it is still just 'one game at a time' as we try to get better. This is a quality tournament and it won't be easy to win it."

Fans should remember last season's memorable run at the tournament that included last second wins over both Gallatin County (first round) and Mounds Meridian (title game) that helped springboard the 'Birds to finish the season strong with a regional title.

Weeks hit a pair of free throws with just seconds remaining to top Meridian 61-60 in one of the tournaments best ever title tilts.

Just up Illinois Route 37 to the north of West Frankfort are the second seeded Benton Rangers (7-2) and coach Matt Wynn, who opened the 2003-04 campaign with five straight victories but have stumbled in two unexpected losses at home to both Carlyle and Herrin.

That Carlyle loss was a 'doo-sey' as the Indians took them to the 'woodshed' December 11th at home, 59-20. The Herrin loss didn't sit well with the coaching staff either.

The Rangers have a smaller lineup than most of the River-to-River squads, but they counter their deficiencies with quickness and shooting ability.

"I don't think the seeds mean that much this year because there are too many good teams and we will have to be ready for Norris City at 8:30 am on Monday," said Coach Wynn. "I am looking forward to this tournament because anyone could win it."

Five-foot-ten junior Seiger Shurtz and 6-foot-1 senior Caleb Muir have paced the club so far with each scoring 10.9 p.p.g.

However there are other 'guns in the holster' for these Rangers. Namely 6-foot junior Jeremy Zazzetti, 6-foot-2 senior Duke Mitchell and 6-foot-2 junior Mason Satterfield.

All three are scoring just under double-figures for Coach Wynn.

Five-foot-eight senior leader Shane Smith is one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. Smith broke his hand in during the Du Quoin Tip-Off Classic and he will miss the EHT.

The Carmi-White County Bulldogs (6-2) earned the third seed in the event, based on winning the title of the Grayville Thanksgiving Tournament with a title game triumph over highly regarded Cisne.

Paced by Tyler Choate and Keegan Dennis, coach Wade Thomas' Bulldogs show just losses at Flora and in double-overtime at Hamilton County on their resume.

Other players 'pitching in' include Keaton Bradshaw, Mark Healy, Alec Rice and Chase Kittinger.

The host Eldorado Eagles have been on a recent hot streak and coach Greg Goodley is glad of that turn of events.

Standing at 6-4 with losses to Class AA schools Marion and Salem along with tough defeats at the hands of Hamilton County and Gallatin County, EHS has turned to Craig Parks for leadership and scoring.

The 6-foot-4 Parks is fully recovered from a broken neck from a season ago and is pacing the Eagles this season.

Parks (18.5 p.p.g.) is the top scorer for the Eagles and his 41-points against Gallatin County last Saturday night was a career high for him.

Six-foot junior Jeremy Carmickle (15 p.p.g.) is second on the club in scoring while several other players on the squad are averaging in the 'eight or nine' points a game range.

Throw in the names of 5-foot-11 junior Daniel Etienne; 5-foot-11 sophomore Austin Bradley, Josh Sims, a 6-foot-2 senior and Lee Roberts, a 5-foot-10 junior guard, into a hat and pull out any three to go with Parks and Carmickle and the Eagles could make a serious run this week at the EHT.

This coach can go deep into his bench, which bodes well for a four game run in just three days.

"We do a good job of taking what we get offensively and this group runs the floor hard," said Coach Goodley as his team prepares to host this great event. "We run the floor hard and this group is a bit ahead of where I thought that they would be at this point and I am pleased about that."

As for the EHT Coach Goodley added "this is always a strong tournament but even more this year with some interesting first round games."

After those top four seeds, things will be very interesting for the ones 'wearing white' on the first day as favorites for at least one round of play.

The Gallatin County Hawks are the fifth seeded team in this year's event with first year head coach Chris Fromm.

Led by the scoring of Kyle Oldham (22 p.p.g.) and Bryan Hargrave (18 p.p.g.) the Hawks stand 9-1 on the season heading into the EHT. Point guard Andy Montgomery (12 p.p.g.) Stuart Aud and Brant Duffy (both at eight p.p.g.) have their sights set on some hardware this week.

A big win over SIRR Ohio team Herrin on the road after winning the Vienna Thanksgiving Classic and a high scoring 91-90 'shootout' win over Eldorado last Saturday have been highlights in what is turning into a memorable campaign.

"Other than West Frankfort, it is pretty wide open," said Coach Fromm, whose team sports the top record in the tournament. "We like our seed in the tournament and you have to beat good teams to win this event, no matter when you play them."

A lone loss to NCOE is the only blemish on the Gallatin County slate, which was a 'wake up' call to his team according to Coach Fromm.

The Massac County Patriots (5-6) suffered a huge graduation hit from last season, sending away seven seniors from an 'Elite Eight' squad.

However coach Joe Hosman's troops always get 'big eyes' for the Eldorado Tournament prize.

The Patriots have won this event five times since Hosman left Eldorado to take over at Massac.

Their 12 total trophies (five titles total) brought home are third all-time in the event.

If they could somehow pull a few surprises, Massac County would draw even with Eldorado for the most championships at six.

Six-foot-two senior Zach McDearmon, 6-foot-4 junior Brandon Logeman and 6-foot-2 junior Landon Bremer have played well for the rebuilding Pats.

If you are looking for another team with a shot at getting to the final day, the Fairfield Mules (5-3) and coach Tim Pearison are a capable seventh seed.

Todd West, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, is one of the top marksmen in this event. Josh Braddock provides some strength in the paint while cousins' Kenny and Ross Basnett, along with Jordan Orr, will have to have good tournaments if the Red and Black clad Mules are going to hang around long.

They have posted recent wins over state-ranked Cairo and also Hamilton County on the road.

Those Hamilton County Foxes (3-2) are coached by 500-plus winner Curt Reed and fill the roll of championship 'dark horse.' team that always brings to a quality group of kids.

Twenty-one times the Foxes have brought home hardware from Duff-Kingston Gymnasium, including four championships.

Cedrick Graham, a 6-foot-2 junior, and 6-foot senior Jordan Gray are the top Foxes for a Hamilton County squad that has just played five games this season.

However the Green clad Foxes have wins over Carmi-White County and Eldorado, both of whom are seeded higher in this event in the early part of the 2004-05 season.

In translation, it won't be a huge surprise if Ham Co. plays on the winner's side of the bracket after the opening day.

Others in the tournament have a shot at winning some games this week include the Anna-Jonesboro Wildcats (1-4) who have also played a limited schedule. That fact has turned out to be a blessing in the early going.

Coach Jim Drew is hoping to have his son, 6-foot-4 junior Jimmy Drew, back by the time the Wildcats take the floor Monday against Fairfield.

This player broke his leg back during the A-J football campaign and has been cleared to play this week.
His attendance this week is essential for any advancement for the 'Cats.

The Harrisburg Bulldogs (1-6) and coach Randy Smithpeters have just a win over Du Quoin to show for their season so far, however history shows us that the Bulldogs seem to be a factor in this event more times than not.

Five-foot-eleven junior Michael Schuessler and 6-foot-4 junior Cliff Ford are the top 'Dawgs so far wearing Purple.

An interesting first round match up will feature Hamilton County and coach Jeff Mandrell's Mounds Meridian Bobcats (5-4).

Like Massac County, the Bobcats had to replace all five starters lost to graduation from a year ago.

The ones back that are playing well for the team are Jerrel Stockstill, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, and 6-foot junior Rhoyne Lincoln who runs the Mandrell offense.

The contrasting styles of Ham Co. and Meridian should make for and interesting 'cat and mouse' first round contest.

The Carrier Mills Wildcats (4-2) are a bit of a surprise so far this season, which is good news for coach Mark Motsinger. The 'Cats have an early season win over Harrisburg and this coach is trying to 'Teach the Children Well' with youthful sophomores Nathaniel and Jeremiah Mitchell topping the Wildcats this season.

The Egyptian Pharaohs (4-5) surprised conference mate Goreville on their way to a second place finish at the Christopher Thanksgiving Tournament. Five-foot-ten junior Jordan Modicue and brothers Cameron Curry (6-foot-1 sophomore) and Mike Curry (5-foot-11 senior) have been bright spots.

The Pope County Pirates (3-5) have some athletes on board the Pirate ship that could give some teams trouble.

Six-foot-six senior Michael Broadway and Bo Bramlet, a 6-foot-2 senior, are the top ones for coach Ryan Fritch.

The Hardin County Cougars (2-4) have Ryan Frailey; a 6-foot-3 junior in place and a big week could come about if the Cougars are ready to 'growl.'

The Norris City-Omaha-Enfield Fighting Cardinals (3-7) own probably the biggest upset in the pre-Christmas season in southern Illinois with a win over Gallatin County.

Coach Doug Miller has the Cardinals flying 'around the court' in a hard-playing mode.

Travis Mitchell, a 6-foot-4 senior, and 6-foot-2 Andrew Simmons are returning senior leaders.